Sunrise in Bangkok

Sunrise in Bangkok and a woman is dumping a large sack of charcoal into a square metal box on wheels. She carefully arranges the charcoal into two stacks, stashes the half-empty sack next to a light post, and lights one of the stacks with a neon green lighter. A great plume of gray-blue smoke puffs into the pink sky.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are dogs, three, four dogs trotting along the side of the road, breathing heavily. One sees another dog under a car, runs over to shove its nose into the sleeping dog’s pink, exposed paw. The paw withdraws into the shade under the car.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are marigold monks holding silver bowls like bells. They stride between the food carts, parting the crowds like orange blooms, like small and friendly fires. Their shoulders are relaxed, they move with precision but without intent. The eldest moves to one side, into a patch of concrete in front of a closed beauty salon and two food-cart women bow in front of him, press their heads to the pavement.

Sunrise in Bangkok and a woman in a short red skirt with a tattered flag of amber-tinted hair frowns at a man on a scooter. He’s a taxi, you can tell by his orange safety vest with the number, and she suddenly swings up and sits side-saddle behind him, holding her purse in her lap and not holding on to the scooter at all. He zooms off and her balance is amazing, hair in the wind, it’s like she does this every day and of course she does.

Sunrise in Bangkok and it’s already hot.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there are hundreds of sweet stubby bananas roasting on a grill. There are squid pig fish meatball sausages on a stick and all of it is delicious. Even better with peanut sauce. Giant pots of boiling everything, walking by them makes you even hotter, but the smells are so worth it. Everywhere there are people chopping food, cooking food, serving and eating food. Spoons and forks and soup spoons and chopsticks clunk against plastic bowls and it is a joy to know that there is so much good food being made and being eaten. It is in the gestures, a hand sorting through frothy green fresh dill, ladling the correct meatball-to-broth ratio over fat bean sprouts, a child with a mouthful of fish.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there’s another farang, tall and fair skinned and our eyes meet and there’s a twinge of recognition what are you doing out at this early hour but in the end it means nothing, because we’re just two white people in Bangkok and it’s not that special and there is no connective tissue or shared identity, really.

Sunrise in Bangkok and there is a girl with french-braided pigtails, starch-white shirt, blue skirt and clunky black shoes. She is headed to school, and sees and meets another girl on the corner and they walk together to the bus stop where a windowless short red bus will stop and they will pay seven baht to the driver’s assistant.

Sunrise in Bangkok and watch where you are going, there’s a scooter coming up the sidewalk, there’s a broom salesman on a bicycle, there’s a Lexus trying to find parking, there’s a gate swinging out at you, revealing a brief glimpse of an emerald-succulent courtyard and careful! the sidewalk is wet and slippery and opens suddenly into a canal.

Sunrise in Bangkok and it speaks the city-language of fares and transport and so many skyscrapers and 7-11s that after two days you feel fluent. At home. But then I give the satay lady in the pink cart 30 baht for five sticks of flattened meat and she hands me back three sticks and a handful of the smallest silver and copper coins I have ever seen in my life. I look at the coins and try to give them back and she doesn’t want them and neither do I. We look at each other and city-language is not useful for people-language so I concede and head back to my flat.

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